Lecture tag: Śāktism​

The Śākta Co-option of Haṭhayoga

Text-critical study of the earliest texts to teach haṭhayoga (c.11th-13th centuries) shows that in its first formulations it was closely associated with traditional ascetic practice and that the aim of its techniques, which were physical, was to boost the beneficial effects of celibacy (or, at least, continence). Śākta traditions dating to a similar period had developed a system of yoga in which the yogin visualised the rising of Kuṇḍalinī from the base of the spine up through a series of cakras. This Kuṇḍalinī yoga, together with some other techniques developed in a Śākta milieu, was overlaid onto the techniques of haṭhayoga in texts such as the Vivekamārtaṇḍa, Gorakṣaśataka and Haṭhapradīpikā. The haṭhayoga taught in the latter text in particular became definitive and since its composition (c. 1450) Kuṇḍalinī-based haṭhayoga has been the dominant form of haṭhayoga, and indeed yoga more broadly conceived. The co-option of haṭhayoga by a Śākta tradition is representative of both the development within Śāktism of a less exclusive, more universal yoga and of the formation of the Nāth saṃpradāya. The first gurus associated with the Nāth order, Matsyendra and Gorakṣa, were part of a non-celibate Śākta tradition which developed in the Deccan. Out of this tradition there developed the celibate order of Nāth ascetics whose influence ranged, and ranges, over all but the southeast of the subcontinent.

James Mallinson has a BA in Sanskrit from Oxford and an MA with a major in ethnography from SOAS. His DPhil. thesis at Oxford was a critical edition of the Khecarīvidyā, a Kaula work on khecarīmudrā, an important technique of haṭhayoga. After his DPhil. he translated Sanskrit poetry for the Clay Sanskrit Library for six years. He then spent a year teaching Sanskrit at SOAS and is now helping to set up an institute of Indian classical studies at Lavasa in India while continuing his research into yoga and yogis.

Varieties of melaka in the Jayadrathayāmala

The encounters with yoginīs, called melaka or melāpa, constitute the core of the post-initiation tantric practice in the Vidyāpīṭha texts, and priya- and haṭha- varieties were well known to the pre-Abhinavagupta śaiva tantric literature. This presentation will explore the nature of the haṭhamelaka as it is described in the Jayadrathayāmala, including its relation to the practice of provoked possession (āveśa), as well as of some other rare varieties of melaka that can be found in this text only.

Olga Serbaeva Saraogi, Post-doc. researcher (Habilitation) at the faculty of Philosophy, Indogermanisches Seminar, Abteilung für Indologie, University of Zurich.

To Be or Not-To-Be: The Rise of Durga in Bengal

According to popular belief, the celebration of Durga Puja in Bengal, as the great festival of Bengalis, started roughly from the late medieval period onwards. This paper shows that the celebration of the great festival of goddesses in autumn had been prevalent in the region for more than fifteen hundred centuries, and that the practice itself was pluralistic. It looks into four Upapuranas of early medieval Bengal and delineates the politics of the appropriation of local goddesses by brahmanism. The paper argues that the process of emergence of Durga as the brahmanical Great goddess of the region was essentially linked with the loss of the local goddess matrix, and the meanings and symbolisms related to it. Brahmanical patriarchy in early medieval Bengal retained the local goddesses as the primary symbol of the Ultimate, but played down their earlier subjectivities and the cultural ethos which had sustained them. The paper focuses on four brahmanical strategies through which the making of Durga was achieved: ‘identification’, ‘hyphenated- disjuncture’, ‘disembodiment’, and ‘circumscription of the goddesses within family relationships’. It explores traits and trails of other local goddesses that were either wiped off or modified in the process and locates various levels of changes in the mythic and ritual content of the goddesses in the Upapuranas.

Susmita Chatterjee is a Fellow at the Institute of Advanced Studies, the University of Edinburgh. Currently, she is working on the the ritual of Kumari Puja in contemporary Bengal and exploring discursive modalities of treating the female as divine. She has completed her Ph.D. at the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, India. Her Ph.D. thesis, entitled, “The Politics of Subordination: Transformations of the goddess and worship of Durga in Bengal” focused on the making of Durga as the brahmanical Great Goddess of the region at the cost of the local goddess matrix and its cultural ethos. It looked into the changing mythic and ritual content of the worship of the goddesses in four Sakta Upapuranas of Bengal and historicized the transformations in the phenomenological and gender roles of the goddesses in the context of early medieval Bengal.

Early Vaisnava Texts from Nepal

Exploring early palm-leaf manuscripts from the NGMPP collection, I came across some rare Vaiṣṇava Tantras which were hardly known from any other source. In this lecture, I will talk about four of such texts: the Svāyambhuvapañcarātra, Devāmṛta-pañcarātra, Jayottaratantra, and the Vāsudevakalpa of the Mahālakṣmṃhitā, which are preserved in palm-leaf manuscripts of the 11–14th centuries.

The first three texts are earlier than the texts which are regarded until now as the earliest Pāñcarātra texts. The fourth text, the Vāsudevakalpa, is exclusively concerned with the composite form of Lakṣmī and Vāsudeva, and is comparable to early Śāktatantras in certain aspects in its structure and contents. These texts together provide a broader picture of Vaiṣṇava Tantricism, and suggest that what was happening in the Śaiva fold was very similar to what was happening in the Vaiṣṇava fold.

I will briefly present the contents of all these texts and discuss specific features of them.

The origins and development of Shaktism

This seminar will explore traditions focused on the Goddess and examine the boundaries of Shakta traditions. The seminar will examine different kinds of Shakta tradition, those within the boundary of Brahmanical orthodoxy and those outside of that boundary. The seminar will raise critical questions about tradition, about etic and emic accounts, and about the relation of Indology to Anthropology. Bjarne Wernicke Olesen has a degree in Classical Indology and the Study of Religions from the University of Aarhus where he now teaches Sanskrit and Hinduism in the Department of the Study of Religions. He is currently undertaking doctoral research in the area of Shaktism.

Images and ideas of the goddess in the Hindu tradition

Prof. Mandakranta Bose (Emeritus Professor, Centre for India and South Asia Research, University of British Columbia, Canada) The idea of Devi, the goddess on whom all creation depends for both protection and nurture, is fundamental to the Hindu way of life. This profound philosophical idea found powerful expression in Hindu myths from early times, influencing both religion and culture in South Asia. This lecture will take note of the intensely emotional impact of the idea of the goddess figure in Hindu thought and trace how through the ages it has been reworked into the rich fabric of South Asian literature, art and the performing arts.

Readings in the Netra Tantra, Session Seven (HT15)

The Netra Tantra is an important early medieval Śaiva text. We will read and discuss sections of the text based on the two manuscripts in the NGMPP Library and compare these with the published KSTS edition. Apart from reading the text we will discuss its meaning.

Readings in the Netra Tantra, Session Eight (HT15)

The Netra Tantra is an important early medieval Śaiva text. We will read and discuss sections of the text based on the two manuscripts in the NGMPP Library and compare these with the published KSTS edition. Apart from reading the text we will discuss its meaning.